Last night the Cleveland Indians looked to have the game well in hand against the Minnesota Twins. Many Tribe fans, excited by another win, but exhausted after many close calls over the past few weeks went to bed happy. Waking up the responses were all pretty much the same “What happened?” “How’d we almost blow it?” “I should of stayed up” and inevitably “I bet Chris Perez was involved.” Right they were, Perez again struggled giving up 4 runs and only getting 2 out. Luckily the team pulled out the win but that still leaves Terry Francona with a decision. What to do with Perez?
Stay the Course
Tito’s response most the time is to stay the course. Dance with the one who got you here mentality. With Perez he could continue to run him out there as the closer and hope he turns it around. Over the past 10 games he has pitched he has given up 10 runs, 18 hits and 5 walks while striking out 13 batters. All 10 of his runs were given up in four games; 3, 1, 2 and then 4 last night. In between he has 6 scoreless performances but only 2 were 1-2-3 innings. Staying the course would allow Francona to align his bullpen as it has all season as well as not ruin Perez for next year.
Demote Perez to Setup Man
Pulling Perez from Closer but leaving him in the bullpen is an option, but not a great one. Perez could sulk, not focus when called into the game and in the end not be a positive factor as the Indians go down the stretch. We will cover who could replace Perez in a second, but having Perez in other, non 9th inning pressure situations could create similar problems.
Don’t Use Perez
Many Indians fans would like this option. For the last few games don’t use Perez then keep him off the playoff roster. While Perez has struggled he also is a very talented pitcher who has his ups and downs. Not keeping the most talented players for the playoffs could cause more problems then keeping off would solve.
Replace Perez with a Starting Pitcher
Twitter was a buzz of the possibility of moving Justin Masterson, pictured above, or Danny Salazar, the rooke phenom, in as closer. Choosing one of the above and putting in a new closer may fix some problems but not all. Masterson is being stretched out to start in the playoffs if we make them. He has been the Tribe’s ace all year and has given about 7 strong innings in his starts. One inning of Masterson may not be as valuable as 7 or so. Salazar was just taken off his pitch restriction so he could also continue his strong starting pitching with his electric stuff. Salazar would be a better option though based on his high pitch counts in other games he could be an electric 1 inning pitcher based on his high strikeout to walk ratio.
Replace Perez with a Relief Pitcher
At the beginning of the year this conversation would of started, and probably ended, with Vinnie Pestano but he was demoted this year and hasn’t been used since 9/16. Now Joe Smith or Bryan Shaw could be the first ones up. They, along with lefty trade deadline acquisition Marc Rzepczynski have excelled in their roles this year. They could each do fine in the role or play bullpen by committee based on match-ups. The problem becomes the changing of roles for each player and for Francona. Each has gotten comfortable in their roles in the “Bullpen Mafia,” changing those could be problematic.
What Should Tito Do?
The best option is the hard throwing Salazar. While a rookie he has shown the mentality to get guys out and strike outs are huge for a closer. Salazar would not be as missed as Masterson as a 3 or 4 man rotation is used in the playoffs anyways. The Indians are likely to go with Masterson, Ubaldo Jiminez and Corey Kluber with multiple options for the 4th man if needed.
What Will Tito Do?
Based on his comments and past history he is most likely to stick with Perez. Tito is an optimist and trust “his guys.” His guys will go threw walls for him because of this and we shouldn’t expect him to change now. Perez has had his struggles throughout the year, and his career, but he tends to rebound strong. Hopefully he is going up for that rebound as we speak.